Tell us about how you became an artist, and what inspired you to make this journey in your life?
As a child, I was fascinated by all the beauty in the world, I grew up on my grandfather’s 1000 acre farm in Upstate New York and was constantly immersed in nature, always admiring the incredible views across the land and the continually changing skies above. Later on in life I went to art school and found myself working on a very serious body of work to do with Dante’s inferno. To relax, from this I made paintings that would depict the natural, organic forms of nature. At the time it was purely for myself, but the collection proved to be a great success and so I have worked with the subject of nature ever since.
Tell us more about your connection to nature and how this has impacted your work?
The impact of nature on my work is profound. I have never considered myself a landscape painter, but rather I paint with the emotion, the freedom and the power of the landscape. My connection with nature has constantly evolved and deepened throughout the years. I began by painting organic shapes and working with layered glazing . The layering process in my works reflects a contemporary history of the complicated dialog we have with the land - it is scraped, pulled, wetted, sanded and then made new. Similarly the energy in my movements when creating a piece is very expressive and involved, it is as much about the landscape as it is about our own experience and connection to it.
What is your process and how has it evolved over the years?
Over the past few years it has become a mission of mine to paint in a way that is environmentally safe and sound. I not only want to represent the landscape through subject matter, but also through carefully chosen non-toxic materials that produce minimal waste. I work with ground pigments, oils and solvents based in nuts and lavender as well as handmade gessoes. The choice of these materials is also partly influenced by my connection to Italy, its culture and creative heritage. Currently I am preparing for an exhibition using the pigments of Raphael. This involves studying all of those very old recipes and paint applications. My interest lies in incorporating these elements into a more contemporary perspective. In a way my use of gold is also a link to the past and its impact throughout art history, I love to use it for its timelessness and everything that it symbolizes.
Could you describe the different phases in your artistic journey and how they have brought you to the work you do today?
I originally trained as a classical figure painter, and subsequently had the opportunity to study with accomplished conceptual painters. Coming from this diverse background I do not follow one mode of thought when approaching my work but rather I like to keep things elastic and open. I consider myself a process painter, meaning that there is a ritual to the painting process. It is very important for me to bring elements of my world into the paintings. This may be by reusing netting from my vineyard, pushing vines and leaves on the surface or using Venetian plaster and raw pigments from Italy reflecting on my Italian roots. Working in this way allows me to incorporate raw elements of the landscape directly into the paintings.
What is your most significant project to date?
It was a profound experience to have received the Virginia Museum of Fine Art Fellowship Award. This has allowed me to exhibit in Rome, Italy following in the footsteps of Cy Twombly. He himself received the award and showed extensively across the city. I am truly honoured to be a part of this long-standing tradition.
Artelier is looking forward to working with Michelle on a large scale Artist Walls commission for a private yacht project in the South of France which will launch in 2021.